The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments Laura Rascaroli The label "essay film" s encountered with ver-increasing requency n both film eviews nd scholarly ritings n the cinema, wing o the recent rolif- eration f unorthodox, ersonal, eflexive new" documentaries. n an article dedicated to the phenomenon that he defines s the "recent onslaught f essay films," aul Arthur roposes: "Galvanized by the ntersection f per- sonal, ubjective nd social history, he ssay has emerged s the eading non- fiction orm or both ntellectual nd artistic nnovation."1 lthough widely used, the category s under-theorized, ven more so than other orms f non- fiction. n spite of the necessary revity f this contribution, y tracing he birth f the essay n both film heory nd film istory, nd by examining nd evaluating xisting efinitions, theory f he essay film an be shaped, ome order n its ntricate ield made, and some light hed on this rratic ut fasci- nating nd ever more relevant inematic orm. Most of the existing cholarly ontributions cknowledge hat he defini- tion of essay film s problematic, nd suggest t s a hybrid orm hat rosses boundaries nd rests omewhere n between fiction nd nonfiction inema. According o Giannetti, or nstance, an essay s neither iction or fact, ut personal investigation nvolving both the passion and intellect of the author."2 rthur's raming f such n-betweenness s particularly nstructive: "one way to think bout the essay film s as a meeting round for documen- tary, vant-garde, nd art film mpulses."3 Nora Alter nsists hat he essay film s "not genre, s it strives o be beyond formal, onceptual, nd social constraint. ike heresy' n the Adornean iterary ssay, he essay film isre- spects raditional oundaries, s transgressive oth tructurally nd conceptu- ally, t s self-reflective nd self-reflexive."4 Framework 9, No. 2, Fall 2008, pp. 24-47. Copyright 2008 Wayne tate University ress, etroit, ichigan 8201-1309.
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This book offers a novel understanding of the epistemological strategies that are mobilized by the essay film, and of where and how such strategies operate. Against the backdrop of Theodor W. Adorno's discussion of the essay form's anachronistic, anti-systematic and disjunctive mode of resistance, and capitalizing on the centrality of the interstice in Gilles Deleuze's understanding of the cinema as image of thought, the book discusses the essay film as future philosophy-as a contrarian, political cinema whose argumentation engages with us in a space beyond the verbal. A diverse range of case studies discloses how the essay film can be a medium of thought on the basis of its dialectic use of audiovisual interstitiality. The book shows how the essay film's disjunctive method comes to be realized at the level of medium, montage, genre, temporality, sound, narration, and framing-all of these emerging as interstitial spaces of intelligence that illustrate how essayistic meaning can be sustained, often in contexts of political, historical or cultural extremity. The essayistic urge is not to be identified with a fixed generic form, but is rather situated within processes of filmic thinking that thrive in gaps.